Being able to host the IMPACT radio program every week, gives me a unique opportunity to get to learn about people in our community making a profound difference through their work and volunteerism in the social profit sector. As a fellow tenant at The Redpoll Centre, I get to see Luana Bussieres almost every day. But spending 30 minutes with her on the radio allowed me to better understand her story and the story of St. Aidan’s Society, the organization she leads as Executive Director.
Luana was born and raised in Fort McMurray. When she was a child in the 1960’s, the community had population of around 3,000 people. By the time she entered the school system, it had almost doubled.
“It had a very small town feel,” she said on the February 21st edition of the program, which you can listen to by clicking here. “Everybody knew everybody, and if you did anything wrong, the neighbours called immediately.”
The challenges of recent years are nothing new for Luana.
“What we are going through now is nothing new if you were born and raised here,” she said. “I have every confidence that we’ll bounce back like we always do.”
She talked about the small town caring and concern that defined the small town of her childhood still exists now that we’re a city.
“You help each other during the down times,” she said. “There is still that sense of community and there is still that sense of banding together, even though we’re a lot bigger.”
Despite having early dreams of being a marine biologist and a veterinarian, Luana moved into the world of social work, eventually earning a University of Calgary degree.
“I started as a summer student at the Youth Assessment Centre,” she recalled. “When I graduated, I returned as a frontline worker and started their outreach program.”
Jobs with the city and the justice department followed, as did several children. She eventually spent a full decade with child welfare before being wooed by the board of St. Aidan’s Society.
Focusing on supports for youth for many years, St. Aidan’s Society ran various programs and a group home. But with vast changes in the community, Luana approached the board in 2014 with a radical suggestion to change the direction of the organization to provide services to seniors.
“I went to the board and said this is what’s going on in the community,” she said. “Here is the need. Our vision is about making an impact on our community and its people. And we can do that differently.”
The board agreed, and St. Aidan’s Society started providing services to seniors on April 1st, 2015.
“It feels incredible,” she said about the change. “It is probably the most rewarding professional undertaking I’ve ever been involved with.”
The events that transpired because of the devastating wildfire in 2016 had a significant impact on the new clients of St. Aidan’s Society. Very quickly after getting settled in three different provinces, the team of four professionals quickly mobilized to help seniors and their families.
“They were confused, split up from friends and family, and worried,” said Luana. She had a call from someone all the way down in Ohio asking about an aunt living in Fort McMurray.
“Do you know where she is?” the lady asked.
“No, I don’t. But I’ll find out.”
Luana and her team made countless calls to connect with seniors, ensuring that they were safe. They also connected with service providers across the province to advocate for residents.
“It became more about responding to the needs, more than any kind of strategic thinking,” she recalled. “It was about responding to overwhelming needs and getting resources to seniors.”
St. Aidan’s Society is very connected to the community of seniors who are actively engaged at the Golden Years Society and the Legion, but they are also doing their best to reach other seniors.
“We are very concerned about seniors who are isolated,” she said. “It’s the ones sitting at home that are not connected to resources. Navigating any system is challenging, but it becomes a lot more challenging and overwhelming for seniors.”
Luana and her team at St. Aidan’s Society are passionate about raising the volume on seniors issues in our community. They do so through their outreach activities and their base of operations at The Redpoll Centre, a non-profit shared space centre run by United Way. Being in close proximity to so many other organizations has been a very positive move.
“The physical environment is incredible,” said Luana, “but the beauty of The Redpoll Centre is the collaboration that occurs. From a funding perspective, there is no better financial strategy than collaborating.”
In the time they have operated at The Redpoll Centre, St. Aidan’s Society has worked closely with Arts Council Wood Buffalo, Spinal Cord Injury Alberta, Multiple Sclerosis Society and Critical Incident Stress Management, just to name a few. They are all fellow tenants.
The role of United Way in St. Aidan’s Society’s work of helping seniors cannot be overstated. Luana minces no words when explaining the impact of dollars donated to United Way used to fund their organization.
“Because of United Way we are able to meet the needs of seniors in our community,” she said. “Without them, we wouldn’t be doing what we do.”
The shift to working with seniors has been a wonderful thing for Luana and her team. The effort and passion that they put into their work is inspiring to all of us.
“It’s about making a difference to somebody that is at the end of their life and not feeling important,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “To be able to bring some joy to someone who is isolated: it is unlike anything I’ve experienced.”
To find out more about the work of St. Aidan’s Society, visit them at The Redpoll Centre or check out their website by clicking here.